Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Bucket showers suck, Beaufort beer rocks

I loaded some photos of my trip to Togo on Flickr, and you can view the slideshow if you’re interested.

I’ve been back in the States for four days, and still a bit disoriented. What I’m realizing most is that I adjusted very quickly to being in Africa–the bucket showers (always cold water), the crowded vans, the lack of variety in the food (God help me if I eat another yam); what is surprising is my slow acclimation back in the States. We have so many things! American roads don’t have potholes (well, they’re a rarity, and they’re sure to be fixed)! We are so very privileged, and I’m still in shock when I drive my little Mini Cooper to notice how spacious and developed the urban landscape of Boston seems.

It’s a bit of a cliche, but I think you live closer to the Earth in Ghana or Togo. Using a latrine, without a flushing toilet, you can’t avoid the fact that you’re shitting in a hole in the ground. And when you forget to bring toilet paper, you’re really reminded how we take for granted clean restrooms everywhere in the States.

Also, I ate a lot–A LOT–of street food in Togo. I was never worried about getting sick; in fact, the food was more fresh and tasty. If I ate a kebab from a woman grilling it over an oil can in Badou, I knew that the beef was likely killed that morning, that any of the chickens running around the streets would soon be in my stomach, and that the food I ate didn’t magically appear in my deli case, wrapped in plastic and butchered so that the ugly parts of the chicken were out of sight.

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5 weeks in Africa comes to an end

So I’m using the last of my Internet minutes in Accra, back from a couple weeks bumming around Togo with JT.

JT with Togolese friends

JT with Togolese friends

Here’s JT himself with the chef and owner of Mamie’s, a little bed and breakfast in Lome, where all the new Peace Corps volunteers stay. Mamie has an interesting story, as she moved to Lome many years ago and opened her guesthouse originally as a brothel. The girls’ names are still on the guests’ doors.

Highlights of Togo (I’ll upload photos later): Visiting the Ta Tas in northern Togo; talking life at the 60-foot, spectacular waterfall in Badou; making fufu on Kosi’s farm outside Kadaousu; drinking Roquefort 6.9 (second only to Castle Milk Stout); watching a goat being slaughtered outside JT’s screen door as we played Phase 10; seeing the glowing, unreal sun set over the soccer field; hanging out with Kosi’s girls at the farm; eating brochettes and Fan Ice.

Outside the Parliament in Lome (where the gendarme yelled at me for taking a pic)

Outside the Parliament in Lome (where the gendarme yelled at me for taking a pic)

Hellish parts of Togo: traveling by bush taxi; getting a 12-hour virus; and bearing the insufferable heat. Also, trying to convert thousands of CIFA, the Togolese currency, in my head every time I wanted to buy something.

The most surprising (pleasantly) part was finding that Togo is so different from its neighbor, Ghana, and getting to experience it in a less structured way than my travels with the B.C. undergrads through Ghana. I wouldn’t trade either experience in retrospect.

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Last day in Ejisu; Futbol in Accra

The service group rode a bus from Ejisu, where we ended our computer camp for 4-6 graders, to the capital of Ghana, Accra, yesterday. I’m in an Internet Cafe with my friend J.T. and we’re here in the capital for a day or two while I go through the bureaucracy of getting a visa to Togo. I’m such a slacker and should have taken care of this visa stuff before I left the States, but as a Ghanian might say, “Such is Life,” and shrug their shoulders.

The BC students boarded a plane this morning at 5:00 a.m. Sad morning. Our last reflection last night was centered more on what we learned from the children of Ejisu rather than the ways that we as Westerners helped. Nice to hear such maturity from all the crew: Jodi-Ann, Pat, Itunu, Mark, Geraldine (not Genevieve!), Jessica, Sandy, Lindsey, Steffany, Kaysha, Chen Chen and Ben. Kudos and eternal Medasi’s to Kwasi and Kwame, our Ghanian hosts, who are forever humble and gracious.

Futbol (not football) is huge here, and we’re hoping to get tickets to a game. Reminds me of a modern day-version of Hemingway and his narrator’s exploits as a young ex-pat in The Sun Also Rises, during the first part when he and his friends attempt to experience Spain through a bullfight. Futbol may be the closest thing to a true cultural experience in 2008 Ghana, the crowds, the energy, the coming together. Or maybe I’m just romaticizing it.

JT wants us to travel up north to Togo to visit several old slave fortresses and maybe even an excursion to Benin or Burkina Faso. Travel is so lengthy here–it can take a day just to travel a few hours, and the roads are dusty and cramped with people’s belongings (live chickens, packaged goods, etc) that getting anywhere really wears you out.

More posts to come.

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An Asante ritual for young women

So I’m in Kumasi at an Internet Cafe where I paid 80 pesewas (about .80 cents) to connect to the Internet for an hour. I’m trying not to do “official” work, but I guess it’s inevitable. Also taking a couple minutes to jot down a brief impression of Ghana so far.

Today was a meeting the Queen of Onwe village. One of my students in the adult computer class that I teach is royalty of the Asante tribe. He brought me via tro tro to his village, about a 15-minute walk and a 15-minute tro tro ride from our classroom. His grandmother is the queen of the village, and spoke to us in Twe, the language of the Asante people, and my student translated. An interesting ritual was also explained, about the coming of age ritual of a young girl in which she is sheltered for three months, brought to the river to bathe, and then literally courted by all the young men in the village. Will post images and more thoughts later…

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» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
August 2008


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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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